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The UN has sent an emergency environmental team to Nigeria to investigate the deaths of more than 200 children this year from lead poisoning.

Specialists from several agencies are to take water and soil samples from an area in in the north of the country.

The source of the poisoning has been traced to lead-contaminated waste dumped from illegal gold mining.

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The contamination is thought to have affected as many as 18,000 people, a UN spokeswoman said.

“From the latest figures we have, more than 200 children reportedly died from this poisoning,” said Elisabeth Byrs, the spokeswoman for the UN’s Organisation for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Five specialists from the World Health Organisation and Unicef are to spend almost two weeks in Nigeria. They will analyse the soil and drinking water in an area around seven villages in Zamfara state to assess the scale of the poisoning.

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